Yes, I am ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. I am a mere five months away from (hopefully) graduating from university and, rather than foreseeing the day as a chance to celebrate my hard work over the last three years, I am worried about how I will look.
One of the main issues is that I know there are going to be lots of opportunities for my family to take lots of photos, adding a lot of pressure on me to make sure I look my best.
The other, and more central problem is that society encourages us to think and act in this way. Not just me, not just women and not just people who decide to go to university, but everyone in general. We are in an age where our society and our media is encouraging us to be better at everything; be healthier, be happier, be slimmer, be more beautiful, be more intelligent, go to university, go to college. I could sit here all day and list what we in Britain are being told to get better at. Of course, it’s not wrong to encourage people to better themselves, but we are only human and we can only do one thing at a time.
Around one in one hundred people suffer with Body Dysmorphic Disorder and the number of people with eating disorders linked to the media has risen by 15% since the year 2000. Just over 45,365 women in the UK underwent some form of surgical augmentation procedure in 2012, as did nearly 5,000 men. Beauty has changed from being a genetic trait to becoming practically a social obligation. There are no excuses anymore. We live in a society that is obsessed by looks and it needs to change.
Brave? Strong? Smart? Not enough. You have to be beautiful or handsome. And those two words mean something very specific and very physical. Essentially every film, television show and advert shows us that. The media doesn’t really challenge that message; it doesn’t really tell us that the definition of beauty is broader than we have been trained to think it is, and that fitting inside the definition of ‘beauty’ isn’t the most important thing in the world.
Realistically, your graduation day should be about celebrating all the hard work you have put into the last three years of your education. Unfortunately, I (and probably many others) will still be worried about how I’ll look on graduation day. But, the thing is, we are all beautiful, wonderfully flawed and imperfect. And there is freedom in that because if you can’t be perfect, then you only have to be yourself. Beauty is power, but it is superficial and is only skin deep. Who you are, how you treat others and what you have achieved, that is what we should remember on our graduation day. I am going to try my hardest to bear that in mind, and I think you should too, whether you are graduating or not.